Comcast was one of several companies that raised alarm about the voting restrictions but then contributed more than $20,000 collectively between April and June of this year to Georgia politicians who voted for or publicly defended the legislation, according to an examination by Advance Democracy, a nonprofit research group headed by Daniel J. Jones, a former FBI analyst who led the Senate investigation into the CIA’s use of torture after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The findings are based on new campaign finance disclosures. They highlight how businesses have been thrust into a roiling debate over race and voting access, compelled by their customers to present themselves as bulwarks against GOP-led crackdowns inspired by former president Donald Trump’s false claims about widespread voter fraud.
Georgia was the epicenter of Trump’s quest to use those falsehoods to invalidate the results of the 2020 election. As a result, the state became particularly fraught terrain for corporations, testing their long-standing alliance with the GOP. Many responded by condemning the law.
Chief executives of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola both called the measure “unacceptable,” following an outcry from Black Lives Matter, the national community-organizing group, which urged big business to speak out more strongly against the law. In the furor, Major League Baseball moved its summer All-Star Game out of the state.
In April, hundreds of major companies and corporate leaders released a statement under the heading, “We Stand for Democracy,” calling voting the “lifeblood of our democracy.”
The statement stopped short of promising to end donations to politicians who advanced the voting restrictions. Nonetheless, many of the corporations that aired concerns have since withheld donations to supporters of the legislation, despite previously helping to finance them. Neither Delta nor Coca-Cola, for instance, has contributed to Georgia lawmakers who voted for the restrictive voting law, according to Advance Democracy’s analysis of filings made public by mid-July.
Several others have taken a different tack — reneging on the spirit, if not the letter, of voting-related commitments and showing that statements of principle are empty absent commitments to reorient corporate giving, Jones said.
“Many of the most powerful institutions in our society — global corporations and elite law firms — have made vague statements about supporting voting rights, but these statements are meaningless if these entities continue to fund the politicians behind restrictive voter legislation,” he said. Companies should cut off these politicians, Jones said, in the same way some, including Comcast, have promised to stop funding Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election.
McGuireWoods, the Richmond-based law firm, contributed $250 on April 14 — the day it jointly released the “We Stand for Democracy” statement — to a Georgia state representative who voted in favor of the measure. The firm went on to contribute to at least four other backers of the law, including $2,800 to state Sen. Jeff Mullis (R), one of its co-sponsors.
Mullis also netted a $2,000 contribution from Peter Conlon, an Atlanta-based executive at Live Nation, an entertainment company that signed the letter. Conlon served as national fundraising director for former president Jimmy Carter and has continued to donate large sums to Democratic candidates. In a statement, Conlon said, “I strongly support voting rights for all, and personally contributed to Senator Mullis because he has been a strong voice for music in the Georgia Senate and I appreciate the work he did passing a tax credit for musicians who were out of work due to the pandemic.”
Another law firm, Troutman Pepper, donated to one of the lawmakers who backed the bill, also on the same day it jointly issued the “We Stand for Democracy” statement. The firm released its own statement as well, saying, “We support voting rights for all Americans, oppose any undue and discriminatory restrictions to the ballot box, and stand firmly with those who support full and fair access to the voting process in Georgia and across the country.”
Comcast and the two law firms did not respond to requests for comment. The decision by some groups to keep funding Georgia Republicans who enabled passage of legislation they condemned mirrors dynamics at the federal level. Major companies that pledged to pause or rethink political donations after the Jan. 6 insurrection, including American Airlines, are once again donating to Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying Biden’s victory.